Here in the Philippines, it’s customary to point out that Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world. But what if Christmas… never went away at all?
Sounds like bliss, to some. Especially those who groove on streaming Christmas rom-com movies. This is a cinematic subgenre that has a 365-day-a-year appeal for some in these parts, especially while living under COVID lockdown.
Picture this: your lola or ate plunked down on a sofa, streaming Hallmark movies all day long on YouTube or Roku or Netflix with titles like Christmas Inheritance or A Castle for Christmas or A Christmas Prince or Christmas with a View.
Now picture that day being… every day!
Yes, some Filipinos have been watching such titles on a steady, daily drip every single day since COVID lockdown began! These are rom-coms that usually revolve around cherished Filipino themes: food, Christmas, royalty, kilig… and that’s pretty much it!
A typical plot involves a harried young professional woman who a) gets stuck in a small town where she meets a down-to-earth bearded dude whom she initially doesn’t like but is eventually won over by; b) a sweet young lady who runs a small-town bakery where she meets a visiting young male royal who is initially dismissive of her small-town wares, but is soon won over by her charm and love of Christmas; or c) a combination of any of those two plot points.
Think I’m kidding? Just do a cursory search of YouTube, Netflix or any streaming service out there and you’ll find that there are dozens of these Christmas gems out there, and they’re released in a flood sometime early each year, so that the homebound/ locked-down will have something to watch.
Filipino seniors, in particular, seem to find great comfort in these non-stop Christmas titles. But perhaps that’s because Filipinos are used to Christmas never really going away. What’s impressive is that this is a global phenomenon.
Since 2020, when time officially stopped, it seems like we’re stuck in Groundhog Day remade as a meet-cute version of A Christmas Carol. The raft of Christmas movies available to locked-in viewers has provided a constant drip-drip-drip of ho-ho-ho.
In my case, sometime around June 2020, when the Manila lockdown was in high gear, I began noticing the sound of jingle bells whenever I’d pass by the TV screen: I’d whip my head around and see mistletoe on the screen, tinsel, a gingerbread house and reindeer ears. This was back in June.
Had I Rip Van Winkled my way through into 2021 already? Was the lockdown affecting the space-time continuum? No, it was just an endless trickle of jingle-jingle-jingle.
The common theme to these rom-coms is that of a heroine who is either jaded or unlucky in love, coming to appreciate the miracle of the Christmas season and embrace the traditional values that may have been missing from her life all this time, living in the rat-race big city. Stir ingredients, bake, and enjoy!
The seasonal rom-com hit parade never ends. There’s A Welcome Home Christmas, Spotlight on Christmas, The Christmas Aunt, The Christmas Setup, Once Upon a Main Street, The Christmas Edition, Christmas on the Menu, Dear Christmas, Christmas Unwrapped, Christmas on the Vine, Homemade Christmas, Inn Love by Christmas, Lonestar Christmas… and so on and so on, ad infinitum.
If there is an origin to this Christmas rom-com outbreak, I feel it can be traced back to the 2018 movie The Christmas Chronicles, starring former child actor (and later Tarantino tough-guy) Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, bringing seasonal joy (and possibly romance?) to a widowed mom in Lowell, Massachusetts. While not a critical hit, it scored off-the-charts viewing numbers on Netflix. Enough to quickly serve up Christmas Chronicles 2 a year later.
And so it began.
Filipino seniors, in particular, seem to find great comfort in these nonstop Christmas titles. But perhaps that’s because Filipinos are used to Christmas never really going away. What’s impressive is that this is a global phenomenon.
Don’t get me wrong. These (mostly Hallmark) movies are competent, occasionally cute, sometimes witty, starring nobody you’ve really heard of — though you may occasionally bump into Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet from Lost) or Lauren Holly (Dumber and Dumber) or Anna Chlumsky (Amy from Veep) onscreen. But there are certain patterns to these Christmas rom-coms that can make them seem… eerily familiar… like you’re experiencing the same day, the same movie, over and over again…
The Christmas themes of warmth, togetherness, true love and wonderful home-cooked meals are rigorously observed, but there are subtle variations. The template is sometimes switched up a bit.
Very often, there are British royal types involved. Eyebrows are raised over the “common-ness” of an American Christmas visitor on royal grounds, or, if it’s the reverse, head-scratching over the “strange ways” of the hoity-toity royal guy in a small town.
The American locale of these rom-coms will vary geographically, whether it’s Maine or the Midwest or, uh, Texas (Lonestar Christmas). But one thing you will rarely, if ever, see is a same-sex Christmas pairing, though there is occasionally racial diversity present onscreen. Call it Christmas window dressing.
Appearances by visiting royals are strikingly common occurrences in these rom-coms.
In Hallmark’s A Christmas Prince, said prince breaks his leg during a tour through some part of the Midwest where the only available hospital in town is a children’s cancer ward. The capable young female doctor in charge of the ward is at first put out by the presence of a handsome, British-accented royal with a cast on his leg, but eventually, true royal love wins out. (Bonus points for adding cancer into the mix.)
There are even weirder variants to the strain, as one I happened to eavesdrop on recently involved a police sting operation (during Christmas season, natch) to take down a guy cops suspect to be a master jewel thief (something about a diamond-encrusted reindeer; don’t ask). But he’s really just a bearded guy who loves Christmas and tinsel a lot. Or is he??
When they send a certain female cop in to “date” the guy and find out the truth (not sure if this is by-the-book police procedure), she falls in love with him, but then has her doubts; the guy is aghast when he later discovers she’s a cop, wearing a wire, and doesn’t even share his fondness for candlelit dinners next to a fully-dressed Christmas tree.
“Do you even actually like Christmas, Mackenzie?” I swear he asks her at one point. Turns out it was his old girlfriend who had done all the actual master jewel thieving, and set him up. (A quick Google search informs me the title of this seasonal gem is Christmas Catch. You’re welcome!)
I would be a cynical creep to take away from the joy that these Christmas rom-coms bring to viewers, and especially Filipinos, who have a deep desire for the season to last as long as possible. So I will grant that they are a gift to people who want the spirit of westernized Yuletide decorating to be evoked, not just during the “ber” months, but every moment of every year.
And, in a country where “regifting” comes very naturally, it’s a gift that just keeps on giving. And giving. And giving. And giving…